Despite having a no-service cremation, it is important that something is done to celebrate and honour your loved one’s life. You may still wish to have a more formal funeral service or memorial, even though the coffin will not be present – but you don’t need a funeral director when planning a funeral.

There are actually no rules when it comes to funerals. In the same way that organising any event or celebration, like a birthday or even a wedding, is usually done without hiring an official event planner, arranging all aspects of planning a funeral or memorial service can be done yourself. 

Just because funeral directors have charged thousands of dollars to facilitate the service for hundreds of years, doesn’t mean it’s the only option when a loved one passes. A funeral arranged by a funeral home can cost upwards of $10,000 and can be quite limiting when it comes to personalising the service. But arranging a direct cremation and a separately planning a funeral or celebration-of-life memorial can not only save thousands of dollars, but it allows family and friends to tailor the service in a way that truly reflects the deceased’s unique life.

As a result of changing preferences, and rising costs, direct cremation has quickly become the fasting-growing trend in the funeral industry. The affordable funeral option allows families to arrange a cremation without a traditional funeral church or chapel service. Without the need to involve a funeral home, a direct cremation allows the freedom and flexibility to personalise a loved one’s memorial separately, to match their unique personality – and at a fraction of the price. 

The average price of a direct cremation with Bare Cremation is about $2,000 (price depends on location) so the affordability gives loved ones the financial freedom to arrange a more fitting celebration of life at a fraction of the cost. That could be a BBQ by the beach, or a memorial at a park or some other special place that meant a lot to the deceased. And the money left over can be used towards a holiday, gifting to the family, or buying the grandkids their first car.

But if you’d still prefer a formal memorial service that closely reflects a more traditional funeral, you can certainly still arrange a DIY funeral without engaging a funeral director. 

We’ve put together this guide to DIY funerals to help you understand what’s involved with planning a funeral or memorial yourself. This guide is broken down into the following steps:

  1. Book a funeral location or venue
  2. Decide on a funeral celebrant or MC
  3. Arrange catering
  4. Decide on funeral music
  5. Eulogy and tributes
  6. Create a photo slideshow or DVD
  7. Decide on the memorial order of service
  8. Memorial cards or ‘prayer cards’
  9. Funeral notices and newspaper tributes
  10. Arrange an ashes scattering ceremony

Step 1: Book a funeral location or venue

The biggest misconception when it comes to planning a funeral is that it must be done at a church or crematorium chapel. But this can’t be further from the truth! 

Just with any funeral, an end-of-life service should be a reflection of someone’s unique life. So, when it comes to the location of your service, consider the person you are celebrating and what setting would fit their personality. Did they enjoy gardening, sailing, hiking, fishing or swimming? If so, you might want to consider holding the ceremony at a place in nature that better reflects their life’s passions.

“It’s no different to planning any other gathering – you just need to pick a day, time and location,” says Bare Cremation’s Daphney Adams, a former funeral director and celebrant. “Then you can make all the arrangements yourself.”

Daphney has attended countless funerals and memorials over the years and says the options for a venue are limitless – be it at home or a public place that was special to your loved one.

“You can hold a memorial service at home, a public park. a community centre, or bowls clubs and RSL clubs have function rooms you can hire.

“For those who prefer a formal memorial that’s closer to a more traditional funeral service, they can actually hire out a cemetery’s chapel to hold the service there. A lot of people don’t realise that’s an option – you can hire the chapel for a private service for a few hundred dollars, without a funeral director,” Daphney says.

“At Bare, we’re still meeting your needs when it comes to farewelling a loved one – you just don’t need a funeral director to do it.” 

A cemetery’s chapel can be booked privately to hold a funeral service, without a funeral director.
A cemetery’s chapel can be booked privately to hold a funeral service, without a funeral director.

When planning a funeral yourself, Daphney suggests contacting your local cemetery to enquire about their rates and availability for booking a non-denominational chapel and function room for a post-funeral gathering or ‘wake’.

Many cemeteries can also provide catering options as well as audio-visual facilities to play a photo slideshow or DVD to celebrate your loved one. Some sites allow self-catering options if you’d like to keep costs down or to tailor to the deceased’s favourite foods. Booking the venue yourself allows you to keep costs down and make your service as individual as your loved one.

As stated on Melbourne’s Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust website: “Whether for a religious or non-religious ceremony, or for post-funeral refreshments, our venues help personalise whatever kind of service you are holding.”

Step 2: Decide on a funeral celebrant or MC

Next, you’ll need to consider who will lead the funeral or memorial service. 

As a former celebrant herself, Daphney has led countless funerals and memorials over the years. But she says you don’t need to hire a funeral celebrant if you don’t want to – it can be a close friend or relative who is comfortable leading the ceremony.

“But if you don’t have the confidence, or if it feels too much to do yourself, you can reach out to a celebrant,” she says.

A funeral celebrant can easily be found online. The Australian Federation of Civil Celebrants lists a range of funeral celebrants by locality and preferred language. Similarly, Funeral Celebrants Association Australia has its own directory of celebrants. You can also find a celebrant with a Google search in your area. The celebrant’s contact details are listed online, so you can book them directly.

When planning a funeral, consider catering that reflects the deceased's favoutite food or culture.
When planning a funeral, you might want to consider catering that reflects the deceased’s favoutite food or culture.

Step 3 – Arrange catering

Your loved one may have had a favourite food, sweet, or national cuisine that you might like to consider to better celebrate their life.  

If you’re hiring a function room, the venue will generally have its own catering options available to select from. Talk to the venue if you’d like to personalise the menu. 

You may also be able to arrange refreshments for the memorial yourself by searching for suitable catering services in your area online, or speaking with a favourite restaurant to find out if they offer catering services.

Step 4 – Decide on funeral music

Music creates a certain atmosphere and sets the scene for a funeral or memorial, so when planning a funeral or memorial, think about the feelings and mood you want in the service with your choice of funeral songs.

A theme song from a favourite movie, TV show, football team, or event is often a lovely way to add a personalised touch for a less traditional service. For some inspiration, take a look at your loved one’s personal music library – you may be surprised by what you find.

Just a word of caution: you may like the sound of a piece of music, but ensure you take the time to listen to the lyrics and check that they are appropriate.

A list of suitable songs for an end-of-life service can be found in our article: Songs for funerals and memorial services, or with the below Spotify playlist. You can also find all our Spotify Funeral Songs paylists here.  

For some tips on selecting music to go with a photo slideshow, see Step 6 below.

Music to start a funeral service or memorial

If you are having a more formal structure to your service, the opening piece of music has another task of settling people before the service begins, so keep that in mind when making funeral song choices.

Music to close a funeral service or memorial

For your closing funeral song, choosing something a little lighter or upbeat may be appropriate if you don’t want people leaving too overwhelmed with sadness.

Step 5 – Eulogy and tributes

The tributes component of a funeral or memorial service begins with the eulogy

A eulogy is a speech given at a memorial or funeral service, usually by a family member or close friend. Eulogies commemorate and celebrate the life of the deceased, so sharing a life story gives purpose to that life and communicates a legacy for those they love. 

The purpose of writing a eulogy is to tell a person’s life journey, their achievements and triumphs, and describe who they are. But is it also for those listening to learn, to take something away that they can use to live their own lives a little better. Therefore, ensure that your story has some reflection of your loved one’s life that can be a lesson for those listening. The most important thing is to write from your heart and express what means the most to you. 

There are many resources that can help write a eulogy, including our How to write a eulogy: 7 step guide.

Funeral tributes

Following the eulogy comes the tributes. Funeral tributes are usually given by the deceased’s children, parents, or other close relative or family member. 

“Tributes generally add flavour to the deceased’s life story, as described in the eulogy, by sharing an anecdote or cherished memory that captured the loved one’s personality,” Daphney says. 

Tributes can also be through performance of a song, poem, prayer, or inspirational quote.

Step 6 – Create a photo slideshow or DVD

A photo slideshow or DVD of videos can add a lovely touch during reflection time. It also creates a focal point for mourners to look without a coffin present.

A photo slideshow can be done simply by a tech-savvy relative or friend by using a computer software program like PowerPoint. If you know someone who is skilled with video editing software, they should be able to put together a short clip of home videos too. Alternatively, you can always hire a videographer if you want to pay for a professional service, but this can be costly and is not always necessary. 

Music to go behind a photographic reflection should celebrate life, happy memories, joys of living – this is a time which highlights the deceased’s LIFE so keep that in mind and don’t make this selection too sad.

You’ll just need to arrange audio-visual components at the venue, including a laptop, projector, screen and an amplifier. If hiring a function space, speak to the venue staff to help arrange this.

Step 7 – Decide on the memorial order of service

A funeral order of service generally follows the following format:

  1. Welcome music
  2. Welcome and introduction by celebrant or MC
  3. Eulogy
  4. Tributes
  5. Reflection time with music
  6. Final message
  7. Committal (prayers for religious services, sometimes at gravesite/final resting place)
  8. Farewell music

For a more formal end-of-life ceremony, you may wish to list the order of service and any poems or readings in a booklet that can be made simply with a computer program like InDesign and printed at a place like Officeworks. Or again, you might prefer to pay a professional to make one for you.

Memorial cards can be keepsakes for mourners to take home.
Memorial cards can be keepsakes for mourners to take home.

Step 8 – Memorial cards or ‘prayer cards’

As an alternative to an order of service booklet, you might like to consider making up memorial cards as keepsakes for attendees to take home.

The inclusion of memorial cards at modern funerals arose from the Catholic tradition of ‘prayer cards’ handed out at funerals. On one side, prayer cards carry an inspirational photo of the deceased and their birth and death dates. On the back is usually a prayer or scripture verse that honours a particular saint or Bible verse. But in modern times these have commonly been adapted to become more secular and non-religious keepsakes to include inspirational quotes, poems or messages as a memorial tribute to the deceased.

Again, these can easily be made with a simple design program and printed at Officeworks, or outsourced to a professional. 

Step 9 – Funeral notices and newspaper tributes

You can publish a death or funeral notice or tribute in the daily newspaper in your area easily through their website or by phoning their advertising department. Most newspapers will have the option to list the notice in both the print and online editions, or just the online edition if you prefer. You can easily book this yourself.

With the rise of social media, another option is to list the funeral notice on Facebook – either as a regular public post or by creating an event. An event allows you to invite the deceased’s nearest and dearest, which they can share with their contacts and save you from having to notify dozens of relatives and friends yourself. And it’s also free!

Step 10 – Arrange an ashes scattering ceremony

You might prefer to have the ashes scattering service as part of the celebration-of-life memorial, or separately as a private moment for immediate family only – the choice is yours. 

Scattering ashes can generally be done anywhere that is significant to your loved one. This may be a family property, a favourite bushwalk, at sea, or a regular holiday destination. The options for ashes scattering are endless and you can go as conventional or creative as you like. 

Another common form of final farewell is a tree-planting ceremony as a way to create an enduring, living memory. 

For more ideas on ashes scattering ceremonies, read our article: How to plan a memorial with a cremation.

Tree planting funeral ceremony
A tree-planting ceremony is a way to create an enduring, living memory.

Final thoughts on planning a DIY funeral

Tradition tells us that when someone dies, planning a funeral needs to happen straight away. This usually takes place within a week of passing and whether in a church or a funeral home this service usually follows a prescribed format and is quite formal in nature. However, you don’t need to have such a formal funeral service if you don’t want to. Just as each of us are unique, a farewell to a loved one can reflect that uniqueness. 

A Bare Cremation service enables you to organise the cremation when your loved one passes and then, when the time is right, you can arrange the appropriate memorial event to celebrate your loved one’s life. Don’t feel pressured into rushing into an expensive cookie-cutter funeral. Instead, take your time and fashion something – big or small – that truly reflects the uniqueness of your loved one.

Optional extra elements when planning a funeral

When planning a funeral, you might like to consider adding the following personal touches to honour your loved one at their memorial or end-of-life service:

  • A tribute table to place photographs, flowers and notes 
  • Decorate the venue with photos, flowers, balloons and sentimental items 
  • Live music performance
  • Wear special colours 
  • Poetry reading
  • Candle-lighting ceremony
  • Memory sharing jar
  • Small keepsake gift for attendees
  • Guard of Honour at end of service
  • Releasing butterflies, doves or bubbles

Our article 12 ways to personalise an end of life service offers more suggestions.

We hope this DIY guide to planning a funeral has given you some ideas to help you consider a self-planned funeral or celebration-of-life to accompany a direct cremation. 

For more ideas about personalised end-of-life ceremonies, read our article How to personalise an end of life service

If you have any further questions or to get a quote for a prepaid cremation visit the Bare Cremation website or call 1800 202 901. 

Want to see what our direct cremation service will cost in your area? Click the button below:

About Bare Cremation

Bare Cremation is Australia’s best direct cremation service. Our mission is to ensure every Australian has the option of an affordable, seamless and stress-free funeral service that can be arranged online or over the phone in minutes, at a fraction of the price of traditional funeral homes. We’ve cut out the need to go to a funeral home and made a complicated process simple by offering an affordable, transparent and easy alternative. Find out more by visiting the Bare Cremation website.